Question: Does it matter for my site’s SEO in Google or other search engines if I use www in the domain name? For example, do I need to use http://www.example.com or can I use http://example.com?
Answer: It doesn’t matter at all to your SEO in Google or Bing whether you use www. in your domain name or not… with one big exception
Search engines don’t consider the use of www or not as a ranking factor, because it has no value in improving the relevance of their search results or improving the user experience.
There is one exception, however. You don’t want to use both a www version of the site and a non-www version.
If you do use both www and non-www, then you’ll have duplicate content problems, also known as “canonicalization” problems. The heart of the matter is that your content will be found in two separate locations.
(The word “canon” is used in religious terms to mean the “official set of holy writings.” That’s been adapted to other fields. So you can have the canonical set of Harry Potter books, which are the official books, and you can have the “canonical” version of a web page, which is the official one you want search engines to rank in their search results.)
What I mean is that if you have two identical versions of a page, one found at http://www.example.com and another found at http://example.com, and both show up fine to search engine spiders, you will have duplicate content.
This is problematic because a) It confuses search engines as to what is the canonical, or official, page. b) You will sometimes get links to one version and sometimes to another, such that you compete with yourself.
How do you do SEO successfully then, if you currently have such www vs non-www duplicate content problems?
You have two options.
1) Redirect either version to the other one using “301 permanent” redirects. There are numerous tutorials on this online, for DIY people, but you can also get a decent freelance programmer to do it for you. Personally, I get my hosting from Dreamhost and they give you an option to 301 redirect one version to the other.
I have a $50 off discount code at Dreamhost off any annual hosting package (or a $25 off discount on a monthly hosting package) if you need to set up a new site: Just enter GabSavesYou50 when you sign up for Dreamhost hosting.
(Full disclosure: It’s an affiliate link, but I’d endorse Dreamhost personally anyways, as I have in the past. Their tech support is super responsive and they have numerous tools to make things very easy, like one-click WordPress installs.)
2) Use the “canonical” tag to indicate to search engines which version is the official one. For those of you using WordPress, Yoast has a plugin to automate some canonicalization, but I’m not sure it’s applicable to this situation.
(3) Update: Malcolm Coles has a related article with examples of www vs non www that’s a valuable read on this topic.
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